Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Like the song of the “mock turtle”, the distorted machinations of Generalissimo Prayut in Thailand’s Alice in Wonderland story continue. The junta is clearly in a state of deep paranoia concerning the draft constitution and the so-called referendum to legitimise it.
On the issue of even holding the referendum it is a case of “Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?” because they are afraid that they will lose.
On the issue of elections next year, which have already been postponed from the junta’s original timetable, it is also a case of “Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?” The junta are hinting that if the draft constitution is rejected in the referendum they might postpone elections to continue with their political anti-reforms.
On the issue of when the junta will step down, it is also a case of “Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?” The Generalissimo has recently asked for “5 more years”, breaking previous false promises.
The junta’s state of deep paranoia is indicated by the prohibition of any campaigning around the referendum, except for, of course, the military’s own pro-constitution campaign. Those found to have taken part in any campaigns to reject this non-democratic constitution face up to 10 years in prison. Re-education programmes for dissidents have also been extended to at least 7 days detention in secret military locations.
For details of the military draft constitution see:[https://t.co/Ucy5GL5pVd] .
Latest victim of the junta’s re-education programme of detentions is ex-Pua Thai MP Watana Muangsook, who has repeatedly been detained for opposing the draft constitution and criticising the junta.
Yet an article by Teeranai Charuvastra and Pravit Rojanaphruk in Khaosod on 22nd April was totally misleading about this. [http://bit.ly/1XOtnBN]
The article claimed that “It wasn’t until (the junta) came for a wealthy, privileged and well-connected luminary of the Pua Thai Party that calls of action went out for people to take to the streets”. Academic in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun was also quoted as saying that the past week’s protests for Watana, who married into Thailand’s wealthiest Forbes-listed family, show the party prefers instigation over participation.
The truth is somewhat different. It was not Pua Thai or Taksin who instigated Watana’s opposition to the junta or called for street protests in response to his detention. It was a small group of activists calling themselves the “Resistant Citizens” who organised the modest protests.
Pua Thai, Taksin and the UDD have long set their faces against any protest or struggle for democracy. While they are only interested in re-joining the feeding at the top table when elections are eventually held, whether they are democratic or not, the important point to understand is that Taksin and his allies are afraid of promoting a mass movement which would move beyond his control and try to bring about more fundamental change in Thai society. Therefore we should not place any hopes in leadership coming from Pua Thai, Taksin or the UDD.
The problem is that an alternative grass-roots united front movement is yet to be built. The attitude of pro-democracy activists quoted in the Khaosod article reveals the kind of sectarianism which is all too rampant among activists. These activists also make a virtue out of small publicity stunts or symbolic protests, instead of trying to build a movement.
It does not matter at all that Watana Muangsook was a Pua Thai MP or that he is married to someone from a wealthy family. It does not matter that he is based in Bangkok. He is certainly not a socialist like me and that does not matter either. What matters is that he opposed the military and refused to give in. This is the kind of leadership which, on this occasion, we should have followed to build a mass protest, irrespective of how Watana will act in the future. The struggle should not be about individuals, but should be determined by principles and the various opportunities that arise.
All democracy activists should have rallied round to stage a united protest when Watana was detained. Instead, a tiny group were left isolated in their protests. Only by mass actions can we prise open a bigger democratic space and build the campaign against the terrible military constitution and the dictatorship in general.